Westchester runs away from Fairfax for Open Division title
Nothing is supposed to be shocking in the storied City Section basketball rivalry between Fairfax and Westchester. There has been so much drama, so many big games and so many twists and turns through the years that fans are always prepared for the unexpected.
Then came Saturday night’s Open Division championship game at Los Angeles Southwest College. Looking up at the scoreboard at halftime, it read Westchester 42, Fairfax 13.
It was Westchester’s best 16 minutes of basketball all season saved for the biggest game. There was suffocating man-to-man defense combined with four threes from junior guard Joseph Johnson that left the Lions reeling.
When the final buzzer sounded, Westchester (22-8) had completed a 68-43 victory to give coach Ed Azzam his 15th City championship. That puts him one behind the legendary Willie West of Crenshaw. Azzam has already passed West as the winningest coach in City history.
“The kids played their butts off,” Azzam said. “We have the capability to be this good.”
The Dolphins beat Western League rival Yankees 60-44 for a second consecutive City championship hours after the boys’ team won the Division I crown.
While Fairfax was missing shot after shot, the Comets used an inside-outside strategy. Johnson, a transfer from La Verne Damien, burned the Lions for 23 points. He made five threes.
“Joseph was phenomenal,” Azzam said. “They didn’t have an answer for him.”
Marland Harris, a 6-foot-8 center, had 12 points and towered over a Lions team whose tallest player was 6-3.
“Marland has improved phenomenally,” Azzam said. “He’s gone from a statue on the court to a kid with a bright future.”
Senior guard Ky-mani Pollard scored all 10 of his points in the second quarter when Westchester began it on a 16-0 run.
Top-seeded Fairfax (26-5) came in having beaten the Comets twice this season and riding a rare five-game winning streak in the series. But Azzam was giving hints that the inconsistency displayed by his team at times this season was disappearing in practice in recent weeks.
“They’re listening,” he said.
“We put in time and effort. We put all the AAU antics away,” Pollard said.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” Johnson said. “We’ve had to listen and grow up as a team to secure this win.”
There were no boom microphones overhead during timeouts. There were no documentary crews placing cameras in players’ faces. Normalcy returned for a brief time.
Fairfax coach Reggie Morris Jr. said his team could not equal the Comets’ intensity. The Lions’ biggest deficit was 54-17.
“They were very aggressive and we didn’t match it,” he said.
After Westchester lost to Fairfax in last year’s City final, Azzam didn’t know if he would retire or return. He said he needed time to reflect. But once he made the decision to return, there was never any doubt the Comets would be in contention. It just took a little more time than usual for Westchester to reach peak form. Saturday’s performance produced smiles and clapping from Azzam.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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